After water, China’s pigs join south-to-north transfer projects to address environmental concerns

By Agencies – Global Times Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/10 18:38:39

Pig farms’ northward relocation will alleviate pollution in southern China

To combat pig waste pollution, many large livestock farms are relocating to Northeast China

Northeastern regions are more environmentally capable of handling large piggeries

Smallholders who can't afford the upgrade or relocation are being squeezed out of the pork market

Workers employed by the local government demolish an illegal hog farm in July, 2017, in Wenling, Zhejiang Province. Photo: VCG

Winter has arrived. The chill cuts right through the fat of thousands of pigs cuddled up together during their long journey from Southwest China's Sichuan Province to the Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.

This has become a common scene in the northeastern region as China pushes forward its new nationwide "south-to-north pig transfer project" in a bid to alleviate livestock pollution in rural areas of southern China. 

In 2017, the State Council released a document underscoring a major task in rural reform: to control pollution caused by livestock and poultry breeding. China produces nearly 4 billion tons of livestock and poultry waste every year, and pig waste in particular comprises a large part of that.

To fight pig pollution, the Chinese government has ordered the closure of thousands of pig farms in banned areas or their relocation into northeastern areas. These nationwide "livestock farming ban zones" cover 636,000 square kilometers.

Traditionally, pigs are raised in the south due to preferential local government policies and more pig-related talents, but provinces in the north including Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang are now designated as new primary destinations, which are expected to be more environmentally capable of handling large piggeries.

With more arable land at their disposal, farmers in the north can make more use of pig manure, which can be recycled as either biogas or organic fertilizer.

Currently, at least eight listed Chinese companies are moving into the northeastern region to build modern hog farms. But for small-scale hog farm owners, they are excluded from this first round of competition.

Environmental pressures

Over the past few decades, the explosion of disease across China has left tons of dead pigs simply dumped in waterways or buried in mud by their owners - often uneducated peasant farmers - causing widespread environmental pollution as well as risks to human health.

"The waste water produced by diseased pigs or pigs fed with oxytocin (a powerful hormone that stimulates piglet birth) contains substantial nitrogen and phosphorus, which can lead to eutrophication (the excess growth of algae due to biomass loads) of China's drinking water," an anonymous insider revealed to the Southern Weekly.

"Groundwater contaminated by the swine influenza virus may be lethal for at least 30 years," he added, explaining that pollution in the south has become so serious that the government had no choice but to move large hog farms northward.

Some local villagers in southern China, according to the insider, are now celebrating their pig-free freshness after decades of complaints about the foul smells and turbid sewage leaking into their water from unscrupulous pig farms. Now they are finding new revenue streams from green ecological economy.

Land capacity is another trigger point for transfer. The population density of Zhejiang Province, an important pig hub, is as high as 553 people per square kilometer. Comparatively, the average density in Northeast China is only 175 people per square kilometer. The vast lands and sparse population highlight its greater environmental capacity than southern China, according to media reports.


Journey northward

Livestock droppings are not well utilized in the south, but are a treasure in the north. The country's policymakers hope to use the new "south-to-north pig transfer project" to develop a sustainable system and start a virtuous cycle of domestic farming and herding.

The drive also caters to the central government's goal to evolve its northeastern granaries into a meat and dairy hub aimed at stimulating consumption for the region's main crops. It is expected to reinvigorate some of China's poorest regions in Northeast China.

"Seventy percent of a pig's cost is spent on feeding, which is typically maize. We know that Northeast China is known as China's 'golden cornbelt.' Some farmers even used to sell pigs to the north first for feeding, and then take them back down to the south to sell at a higher price. Now this has all been solved," a researcher from the Agricultural Science Academy of Heilongjiang Province, who is engaged in piggery research, told Southern Weekly.

Experts predict that, along with more large enterprises settling down in the north, the region could possibly surpass Sichuan and Henan provinces, traditional pig hubs, as China's primary source of pork over the next five years.

But the journey northward has not been smooth sailing for all. Two months ago, Heilongjiang was about to enter a five-month "ice age."

At the urging of Gan Chao, the manager of Tailai Pig Farm, over 2,000 three-month-old piglets headed north from Sichuan Province. "The long journey left the pigs red nosed and suffering colds, and some even suffered serious diarrhea and coughs," Gan said, deeply distressed.

How to scientifically deal with fecal pollution is also another puzzle for pig farmers. An anonymous expert said that the treatment used in the south does not work always well in the north.

"In the south, feces can become well-fermented because of heat and humidity, while during the ice age in the north there is no thermal condition to support fermentation," he said.

Squeezing out smallholders

The new national campaign has forced some smallholders to be squeezed out. As prices soared on the shrinking supply because many hog farms in the south were demolished, larger farms rapidly expanded their shares, seeking to grab markets once belonging to smallholders, leaving them vulnerable.

The central government has also encouraged a more modern and more efficient agriculture structure, providing more opportunities for industrial-scale farms with quality machinery and equipment.

In an interview with The Pig Site, a livestock news website, Angela Zhang, an agricultural expert,  shared her insights about the impact on the industry.

"For those large-scale enterprises, most are inclined to upgrade their facilities to meet the new regulations or relocate to domestic major grain-producing areas, saving feed costs at the same time," she said. But she admitted that the campaign, with its stringent environmental targets, has gradually pushed many small merchants completely out of the industry.

"It kicks those who cannot afford the upgrade of facilities to submit to new environmental policies, and those being incapable of moving northward, out of the business altogether," Zhang said.

Indeed, smallholding pig farmer Deng Bang in Guangdong Province told Guangdong-based Yangjiang News that he had to sell off his pork at the price of cabbage.

Deng expected to celebrate when he learned the pork price rebounded. But he was dismayed to find that his farm was ordered to close by the end of 2017 because it was located in a newly designated forbidden area. He said that the closure may hurt other small-business owners as well.

While good news and achievements in the campaign are celebrated by local governments, many chilling details of "improper behavior" during the process also exist.

Farmers of Xingang village, once one of the nation's top pig-rearing villages, showed the Financial Times their videos of forcible demolitions of pigsties with the animals still inside.

"If you resist, they will send dozens of men, so it's no use," said one farmer who asked not to be named.

In Yuxi township of Fujian Province, the local government was ordered to pay 30,000 yuan ($4,605) in compensation to a pig farm owner for illegally demolishing his farm. Luo, the owner, was asked to sign an agreement in 2012 to close his farm, as it was located in a banned area.

Luo did not shut down his hog farm within the required allotted time, then saw it forcibly demolished by Yuxi government in September of 2014. As Luo had refused to sign an agreement to do so, the local court eventually ruled that the government's behavior was illegal, according to a report in Fuzhou Evening News.

While the "banned area" was a remediation to the intensified environmental concerns, some farmers complain that they have been deprived of income security.

To break through this dilemma, experts suggest that the government should find alternative ways for pig farmers to transfer into other industries. Also, it's necessary to equip farmers with advanced technology and to provide funding to allow capable farmers to standardize their ecological farming.

Different local governments specifically delivered their attempts to support those negatively affected. Several relevant organizations have already made efforts in giving assistance and guidance to farmers to make a transformation into an ecological piggery.

Newspaper headline: Pigsty revolution

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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